March 31, 2018
Because it has been quite a while since we last reviewed an HP mobile workstation (see DE September 2016), we were very excited when the new HP ZBook 15 G4 arrived at our testing lab.
Part of the latest refresh of HP’s award-winning mobile workstations, the fourth-generation ZBook 15 G4 includes HP Sure Start Gen3, the industry’s first self-healing PC BIOS. A separate chip on the motherboard unrelated to other circuitry detects if malware was installed at the BIOS level and refreshes the original BIOS. HP Sure Start was first introduced in the company’s third-generation workstations, but only checked the BIOS at bootup and shutdown. HP Sure Start now runs all the time.
The HP ZBook 15 has become the No. 1 workstation in the world (in terms of units shipped). It is even used by NASA on the International Space Station. The new fourth-generation systems include Intel Xeon or seventh-generation Core processors, and can be equipped with up to 3TB of storage, 64GB of RAM and NVIDIA Quadro or AMD Radeon Pro graphics.
This 15.6-in. mobile workstation comes housed in a sleek aluminum and magnesium alloy chassis measuring 15.2x10.4x1.0-in. The evaluation unit we received weighed 5.89 lbs., plus another 0.92 lbs. for the external 150-watt power supply, which, at 6x2.6x0.7-in., is even thinner than the laptop. An HP logo is centered in the lid, while a recess surrounded by a band of rubber on the base makes the system easy to hold and helps keep it from sliding around on your desk or in your lap.
Raising the lid reveals a spill-resistant 100-key backlit keyboard that includes a separate numeric keypad. The keyboard proved quite comfortable to use despite its relatively shallow key travel.
Most of the keys are full size, with the exception of a row of half-height function keys above the number row and small up and down arrow keys on the bottom row. A black point stick input device is nestled between the G, H and B keys and has its own set of three buttons, while a 4x2.25-in. touchpad is centered below the spacebar. The touchpad has its own set of three buttons, supports multi-touch and includes a dedicated scroll zone. You can also double-tap the upper-left corner of the touchpad to toggle it on and off. When off, a small LED in the upper-left corner of the touchpad glows amber. A fingerprint reader sits to the lower right of the keyboard.
A rectangular power button, located in the upper-left, above the keyboard, glows white when the system is powered up. A pair of smaller buttons in the upper right toggle the wireless capabilities and mute the volume of the superb Bang & Olufsen sound system. These, too, glow white when enabled, turning amber when toggled off. The caps lock and number lock keys have their own LEDs to indicate when they are selected. Tiny LEDs along the left-front edge of the system indicate wireless, power, battery and hard drive status.
Our evaluation unit came with a FHD UWVA 1920x1080 anti-glare display. A 720p HD webcam is centered above the display, flanked by a pair of microphones as well as an LED that glows white when the webcam is active.
HP includes ample ports. Along the right side is a Smart Card reader, a microphone/headphone combo jack, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, the connection for the external A/C power supply and an LED that glows white when the battery charge is greater than 90%, amber when the battery charge is between 0 and 90%, and is off when the battery is not charging. When A/C power is disconnected, this LED blinks amber when the battery reaches a low battery level and blinks more rapidly when the charge reaches a critical level.
On the left are an SD UHS-II flash media card slot, a USB 3.0 charging port, a VGA port, an RJ-45 ethernet port and a security cable slot. The underside of the case includes a removable panel for accessing the hard drive bay, LAN module slots and memory sockets.
Prices for the HP ZBook 15 G4 start at $1,329, although to configure a system like what we received, the base price jumps to $1,977 for a system that starts out with a 2.8GHz Core i5-7440HQ CPU, a 1920x1080 SVA display, an NVIDIA Quadro M620 GPU, 8GB of memory and a 500GB 7200rpm SATA-3 hard drive.
The Intel Xeon E3-1505M v6 “Kaby Lake” CPU in the system we received immediately adds $200 to that base price. That 3.0GHz processor (4.0GHz max turbo) includes an 8MB cache and has a 45-watt thermal design power (TDP) rating. Other available CPUs range from a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7300HQ to a 3.1GHz Xeon E3-1535M v6 processor. All are quad-core with embedded Intel graphics.
Other display options include a 1920x1080 panel with touch capabilities ($150) and a UHD UWVA DreamColor 3840x2160 display ($350). The display in our evaluation unit was powered by an NVIDIA Quadro M2200 discrete GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 memory and 1024 CUDA cores, adding $225. Other GPU options include an AMD Radeon Pro WX 4150 and an NVIDIA Quadro M1200.
Although the base configuration comes with 8GB of RAM, our system came with 32GB of DDR4 2400MHz ECC memory, installed as two 16GB DIMMs, adding $960. Or, you could max the system out with 64GB of memory for $1,920.
HP offers lots of internal storage options, including mechanical and solid-state drives ranging from 256GB to 1TB. Our system came with a 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD, which added just $185 to the system price (after eliminating the 500GB SATA drive). The ZBook 15 G4 can be equipped with up to three drives, including a pair of SSDs that can also be configured in a RAID array. All ZBook 15 G4 units include Intel 8265 ac 2x2 wireless LAN plus Bluetooth 4.2 and mobile broadband is also available on some systems.
HP also sells several accessories for the ZBook 15 G4, including a Thunderbolt 3 dock that adds four USB 3.0 ports, an RJ-45 network port, a VGA port, two DisplayPorts, an audio jack and a Thunderbolt port. Although HP sells this accessory for $279, we found the same item online for $207.
We always expect great performance from HP workstations, but the results we recorded for the ZBook 15 G4 surpassed these expectations. The nine-cell 90Whr Li-ion battery kept the system running for an incredible 13.5 hours, the longest battery life we have ever recorded. In addition, the system supports HP Fast Charge that charges the battery from 0 to 50% in just 30 minutes, after which charging slows down to preserve the life of the battery.
On the SPEC Viewperf test, which focuses on graphics, the ZBook 15 performed very well, only lagging systems equipped with more powerful NVIDIA Pascal-based GPUs. On the SOLIDWORKS 2015 benchmark, the ZBook 15 outperformed all other mobile workstations except those equipped with much faster CPUs not really aimed at mobile systems.
The ZBook 15 G4 also turned in great results on the SPECwpc benchmark with scores that again fell only a bit behind those portable systems based on decidedly non-mobile CPUs. And with an average time of 72.7 seconds to complete our AutoCAD rendering test, the HP ZBook 15 G4 outperformed most of the other 15.6-in. mobile workstations we have tested to date.
Throughout our tests, the HP ZBook 15 was practically silent, averaging 29dB at rest and peaking at 45dB under heavy compute loads. HP preinstalled Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. Windows 10 Home and FreeDOS 2.0 are also available. Like all its other workstations, the ZBook 15 G4 is ISV certified and backed by a three-year warranty that covers parts, labor and onsite service, including replacement of the battery.
Once again, HP has delivered a mobile workstation with the power, portability and features to meet the needs of most DE readers. As tested, our evaluation unit had a total cost of $3,095. At that price, it’s no wonder that the HP ZBook 15 G4 is the bestselling mobile workstation in the world—or the universe if you include the space station.
HP ZBook 15 G4 mobile workstation
- Price: $3,095 as tested ($1,329 base price)
- Size: 15.2x10.4x1.0-in. (WxHxD) notebook
- Weight: 5.89 lbs. (plus 0.92-lb. external power supply)
- CPU: Intel Xeon E3-1505M v6 quad-core w/ 8MB cache
- Memory: 32GB DDR4 2400MHz ECC
- Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro M2200 w/4GB GDDR5 and Intel HD Graphics P630
- LCD: 15.6-in. FHD UWVA anti-glare 1920x1080
- Video: 720p webcam
- Hard Disk: 512GB PCIe M.2 SSD
- Floppy: none
- Optical: none
- Audio: Bang & Olufsen HD audio with integrated stereo speakers and microphone
- Network: integrated Intel 8265 ac 2x2 LAN plus Bluetooth 4.2
- Modem: none
- Other: three USB 3.0 (one with charging), HDMI, two USB Type-C (Thunderbolt 3/DisplayPort 1.2/USB 3.1) ports, RJ-45 (Ethernet) port, VGA port, microphone-in/headphone-out combo, A/C power, smart card reader, SD flash media slot
- Keyboard: integrated 100-key backlit keyboard with separate numeric keypad
- Pointing device: integrated three-button touchpad with multi-touch and three-button pointing stick
About the Author
David Cohn has been using AutoCAD for more than 25 years and is the author of more than a dozen books on the subject. He’s the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, a contributing editor to Digital Engineering, and also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA. Email at [email protected] or visit his website at www.dscohn.com.Follow DE